In the realm of biopics, director Meghna Gulzar's latest offering, "Sam Bahadur," attempts to bring to life the legendary Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, portrayed by the talented Vicky Kaushal. Riding on the success of Gulzar's previous hits, "Talvar" and "Raazi," and Kaushal's commendable performances in films like "Uri: The Surgical Strike" and "Sardar Udham," the expectations were undoubtedly high. However, the film falls short of creating a lasting impact, leaving the audience with a sense of a facile and forgettable vignette reel.
The film opens with a promising backdrop, delving into the life of the near-mythical Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, a war hero who survived being shot nine times by a Japanese soldier in World War II. Despite the rich source material, the narrative lacks nuance and fails to explore the complexities of Manekshaw's character. Instead, it opts for a straightforward and linear storytelling approach, resulting in a biopic that feels more like a hagiography than a critical examination of the celebrated soldier's life.
One of the inherent challenges of biopics is their episodic nature, often constrained by the need for veracity and length. "Sam Bahadur" succumbs to these constraints, choosing not to engage in narrative pyrotechnics or problematize Manekshaw's recent appropriation as the ultimate sigma male. The film becomes so fixated on glorifying its protagonist that it overlooks opportunities to delve into the intricate layers of his personality.
However, amidst the film's shortcomings, Vicky Kaushal emerges as the saving grace. In a year marked by underwhelming character portrayals, "Sam Bahadur" gives Kaushal the platform to showcase the magic he displayed in films like "Sardar Udham," "Raazi," and "Masaan." His portrayal of Manekshaw is characterized by a confident gait, affected vocalization, and the legendary charm and quick wit associated with the war hero. Kaushal's on-screen charisma, coupled with his off-screen candor, seamlessly translates into a compelling depiction of the protagonist's optimism and unwavering faith in his abilities.
Sanya Malhotra, in the role of Sam's wife Silloo Bode, adds an emotional anchor to the Manekshaw household. Her portrayal complements Kaushal's maverick energy, providing a nuanced perspective on the sacrifices made by the family. On the other hand, Fatima Sana Shaikh's portrayal of Indira Gandhi falls short, with casting choices bearing the brunt of the criticism.
The film's music, composed by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, surprisingly falls flat, with the war anthem "Badhte Chalo" receiving particular disdain for its insipid and inelegant composition. This comes as a surprise, considering the trio's previous collaboration with Gulzar on "Raazi," which was met with acclaim. Additionally, the background score, while middling, makes effective use of archival footage to lend a documentary gravitas to the film. However, this also contributes to the overall passive linearity and staccato time leaps that characterize the narrative.
"Sam Bahadur" is a mix of sweet and engaging individual segments from Manekshaw's life, well-shot and designed, particularly commendable in the portrayal of air strikes and combat scenes in Burma. However, the film falters in weaving these segments together, resulting in disjointed sequences that struggle to form a cohesive narrative. Moments like Manekshaw's banter with his radio set-carrying cook and the ballroom meet-cute with his wife feel disconnected and are in desperate need of cohesive storytelling.
In conclusion, "Sam Bahadur" stands as a missed opportunity to delve into the depth of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw's life. While Vicky Kaushal's performance is undoubtedly a highlight, the film's lack of narrative complexity and thematic exploration leaves it as a forgettable addition to the biopic genre. As audiences, we are left longing for a more profound and nuanced portrayal of one of India's most storied soldiers, a sentiment that resonates long after the credits roll.